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Chief honored for vest donation

By Ed Brock

The Clayton County Police Department is looking after one of its own, even while he's serving in the war in Iraq.

On Monday Army National Guard Spc. Mike Wheeler presented Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain with a special certificate from the National Committee for Employer Support of Guard and Reserve in recognition for the support Partain and the department have given Wheeler's unit, the 48th Brigade Combat Team. That support came in the form of around 30 Kevlar bulletproof vests that have been shipped to Iraq to be used to augment the armor on the Humvee vehicles in which Wheeler and his fellow soldiers will ride.

"I wanted to give you this and say thank you," Wheeler told Partain.

"Thank you for your service to your country and for extending the thin blue line across the ocean," Partain responded.

Wheeler, 31, of Stockbridge had just graduated police academy when he was called to duty. He recently returned from Army Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert in California where he was training with the rest of the 48th for their deployment.

"It gave me a glimpse of what the heat will be like in the desert," Wheeler said.

The 48th is scheduled to ship out between May 14 and 21. Their tour is supposed to last a year to 18 months.

"We've been told at most two years," Wheeler said.

This is Wheeler's first deployment with the 48th, but he served in the Navy during the first Gulf War in 1992.

He said the vests will be a little extra protection against shrapnel from "improvised explosive devices."

"It's good to put them on the floorboard or the doors (of the Humvees,)" Wheeler said.

The vests are no longer in regular use by the department's officers due to their age, Detective Hank Derbyshire said.

"These are the ones that are no good for the officers on the street, but they offer the soldiers some protection," Derbyshire said.

Wheeler's wife Pam Wheeler said she's glad her husband will have that extra protection.

"I'm very well impressed by the Clayton County Police Department and their support of the military," Pam Wheeler said.